Bellingham Police Department declines to enforce state law re: groups organizing or parading in public with firearms / Noisy Waters Northwest

Click the graphic to access Markis Dee’s post above in the Open Carry Hammers Facebook group.

June 20, 2019 Dena Jensen

I am posting a series of emails between myself and City of Bellingham officials in regard to the subject matter of Markis Dee’s post above, regarding the Washington State Open Carry (Bellingham Chapter) group, with their open carry firearms, marching in and organizing at the Bellingham Pride Parade this year. Here is a link to RCW 38.40.120, https://app.leg.wa.gov/RCW/default.aspx?cite=38.40.120. Chief Doll’s phone number is 360-778-8663.

Here is the email I sent on June 19, 2019:

To: ddoll@cob.org <ddoll@cob.org>

Cc: Bellingham City Council <ccmail@cob.org>; Mayor Kelli <mayorsoffice@cob.org>

Sent: Wednesday, June 19, 2019, 12:44:17 PM PDT

Subject: Regarding Whatcom County Chapter of Washington Open Carry participation in the Bellingham Pride parade

Dear Police Chief Doll:

I am writing regarding my understanding that the Bellingham Police Force will not be enforcing RCW 38.40.120, in regard to the participation of the Whatcom County Chapter of Washington Open Carry in the Bellingham Pride parade this year.   

I understand that one of the City of Bellingham’s attorneys, Shane Brady, has interpreted the Whatcom Open Carry group’s participation as not marching or organizing at the event and I hope you can provide me a better understanding of why this interpretation was made. I understand that the group has had a booth in the parade in years past and has marched in the parade. And I assume their participation would be similar this year.

When there have been horrible, purposeful shootings at large events brought to our attention, and when there is an organized group bringing guns, located in clear view, also with easy access to folks who can walk up and remove them from someone’s person, it seems an unnecessary risk to allow people to openly carry firearms, especially at events where hundreds of people participate. 

We have an RCW that can be enforced, and without a clear benefit from an organized group of civilians openly carrying weapons at a Gay Pride parade, I do not understand why the Bellingham Police Department would not enforce that RCW to minimize the risk of gun-related deaths at that event. Thank you in advance for providing me with an explanation of Mr. Brady’s interpretation and why your department has been, so far, choosing not to enforce RCW 38.40.120.

Sincerely,

Dena Jensen

Birch Bay, WA

I received responses to my email from both Chief Doll and Bellingham City Council Member Michael Lilliquist today with some detail regarding what they understand from the City attorneys about RCW 38.40.120 and the Open Carry folks. Here is Chief Doll’s: 

From: Doll, David G. <ddoll@cob.org>To: dbobena@yahoo.com <dbobena@yahoo.com>Cc: CC – Shared Department <cc@cob.org>; MY – mayorsoffice@cob.org <mayorsoffice@cob.org>; Brady, Shane P. <sbrady@cob.org>; Ruffatto, Peter M. <pruffatto@cob.org>Sent: Thursday, June 20, 2019, 8:48:48 AM PDTSubject: RE: Regarding Whatcom County Chapter of Washington Open Carry participation in the Bellingham Pride parade

Greetings Dena, and thank you for your inquiry.  

The City of Bellingham Legal Department provides me with advice on legal issues, such as this, so please understand that I do not speak for anyone at Legal, but can address my response based on advice given. 

This particular issue is one that we have previously reviewed, discussed and addressed, both in regards to the Pride Parade event, and other events that have occurred in our Community.  Those other events also pertain to the concerns of “open-carry” individuals and their mere presence throughout our community, including restaurants or simply walking down the street.   

As you most likely know, the general “open-carry” of weapons is lawful in Washington State.  Certainly there are restrictions, and I will get to your concerns regarding RCW 38.40.120 (Authorized military organizations) in a moment.  While there are sensitivities to this, to include fear that a person carrying a weapon, whether “open-carry” or “concealed,” may be disarmed and the weapon used against them, that fear does not supersede an individual’s lawful right to carry a weapon.  This particular scenario is also one that I have not experienced in my tenure as a police officer in Bellingham. 

Regarding RCW 38.40.120 “Authorized military organizations,” it is my understanding, and the opinion of legal advisors with whom I consult, that this particular RCW 38.40.120 concerns militias, and always has since its inception in 1903.  We do not believe it covers these particular circumstances of “open carry.”  I believe this is why it is not in statutes that address weapons in Title 9 or 9A.   

In his address to City Council on Monday June 17,th concerning this issue, City Attorney Peter Ruffatto stated that he had  consulted with other attorneys (including the City Prosecutor) and the Municipal Research Service Center and concluded that this RCW (38.40.120) does not apply to the facts of this situation. 

While I know that it was recently opined, by a community member, that RCW 38.40.120 (Authorized military organizations) should apply to anyone openly displaying a weapon, it is my belief that it simply does not. 

David Doll – Police Chief

Bellingham Police Department 

City of Bellingham

360-778-8663

ddoll@cob.org

Now for Council Member Lilliquist’s email. He doesn’t seem to be coming from the same place as Chief Doll and may not have really spoken with him about this. His reasons the RCW wouldn’t apply are different: 


From: Lilliquist, Michael W. <mlilliquist@cob.org>

Sent: Thursday, June 20, 2019, 12:05:06 PM PDT
Subject: Fwd: Regarding Whatcom County Chapter of Washington Open Carry participation in the Bellingham Pride parade
Dena,

Like Chief Doll, I looked into this issue before and talked with several attorneys about it. I agree with the Chief that the state law in question, regarding organized militias, does not contradict people’s open-carry rights under state law. I would point out, however, that there is a finer issue here, having to do with the way people participate in a public event.

The legal issue turns on whether or not a group of people is engaged in behavior that qualifies as “parade in public with firearms” — because that is the language used in the state law. Watching or attending a parade with a firearm is not “parading” in public. Neither does hanging around a street corner, armed with firearms, to discuss politics count as “parading.” Walking around a large crowd of people at an event, with a loaded gun on your hip and maybe carrying signs, may be risky and provocative, but is not “parading.” These are the sort of activities that may worry people such as yourself, and I largely agree, but they are allowed under state law and not covered by the statute in question, as I read it.

What is not permitted, in my view, is participation in the parade itself. If you organize as a group, even informally, and you request to participate in a parade, and then do so — you are almost certainly in violation of state law. The only way that the individuals in such a group would not be in violation is if they are members of “recognized militia organizations of this state, armed forces of the United States, students of educational institutions where military science is a prescribed part of the course of instruction or bona fide veterans organizations.” My understanding is that the people in question are not participating as members of such an organization. In my reading, participation in a parade in a coordinated manner would, therefore, be a violation of state law.

As you can see, the particular facts are important. Open-carry is not the deciding factor. Other aspects are critical with regard to this particular law and situation. I have been told that, most recently, the open carry folks have not been in any actual parades’ and so are on the allowable side of the law.

Yours,

Michael Lilliquist
Bellingham City Council
Representative, Ward 6
mlilliquist@cob.org

Finally, here is my email reply to Bellingham Police Chief David Doll today:

To: Doll, David G. <ddoll@cob.org>
Cc: CC – Shared Department <cc@cob.org>; MY – mayorsoffice@cob.org <mayorsoffice@cob.org>; Brady, Shane P. <sbrady@cob.org>; Ruffatto, Peter M. <pruffatto@cob.org>; Michael W. Lilliquist <mlilliquist@cob.org>
Sent: Thursday, June 20, 2019, 2:26:38 PM PDT


Subject: Re: Regarding Whatcom County Chapter of Washington Open Carry participation in the Bellingham Pride parade


Dear Chief Doll:
Thank you very much for your prompt response to my email. I received an email from Council Member Lilliquist also, and appreciate his response, as well.


I wanted to speak about something related to this paragraph in your email to me: “Regarding RCW 38.40.120 ‘Authorized military organizations,’ it is my understanding, and the opinion of legal advisors with whom I consult, that this particular RCW 38.40.120 concerns militias, and always has since its inception in 1903.”


Even if it’s true RCW 38.40.120 has historically been enforced with regard to militias, I don’t believe this is how the RCW reads. In other words, I see nothing in it that would constrain it to applying to militias. I am going to isolate some of the language in the RCW: “No organized body”… “shall associate themselves together as a military company or [that’s or , not and] organize or parade in public with firearms…” So, again I don’t see why this RCW could only be enforced with regard to militias.


I understand that individuals are allowed to openly carry firearms in Washington State. My concern is with an organized group of people consolidated around the purpose of carrying firearms, being in locations, either marching in the parade or at a designated booth, complete with signage that includes a web address for their organization, at an event out in public, with their firearms.


With the threat of gun violence and mass shootings so prominently in the news, and especially in instances where groups organized around carrying firearms are placing themselves in settings where communities of individuals, who have been historically oppressed and persecuted, are gathering, I believe it is both dangerous and a detriment to the general welfare to have this occurring in our community.


I urge you to re-evaluate your position that RCW 38.40.120 would not apply to the Washington State Open Carry group of Bellingham organizing and marching as a group at the Bellingham Pride Parade.


Sincerely,
Dena Jensen
Birch Bay, WA

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